PING-PONG DIPLOMACY: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World.
by Nicholas Griffin
Chosen Amazon Best Book of the Month January 2014. Hardbound. From Scribner.
Combining the insight of Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World and the intrigue of Ben Affleck’s Argo, Ping Pong Diplomacy traces the story of how an aristocratic British spy used the game of table tennis to propel a Communist strategy that changed the shape of the world.
The spring of 1971 brought the greatest realignment in a generation. After twenty-two years of antagonism, China and the United States suddenly moved towards a détente—achieved not by politicians but by ping pong players. The western press digested the moment as an absurd and happy catalyst for reconciliation and branded it ‘Ping Pong Diplomacy.’ But for the Chinese, ping pong was always political, a strategic cog in Mao Zedong’s foreign policy. Griffin proves that the organized game, from its first breath, was tied to Communism thanks to its founder, Ivor Montagu, the son of a wealthy English baron who also happened to be a spy for the Soviet Union.
Ping Pong Diplomacy tells the strange and tragic story of how the game was manipulated at the highest levels; how the Chinese government helped cover up the death of 36 million by holding the World Table Tennis Championships during the Great Famine; how championship players were condemned, tortured, and murdered during the Cultural Revolution; and, finally, how the survivors were reconvened in 1971 and ordered to reach out to their American counterparts. Through a cast of eccentric characters, from spies to hippies, ping pong-obsessed generals to atom-bomb survivors, Griffin explores how a neglected sport incited a realignment of world super powers.
Praise for Ping Pong Diplomacy:
An Amazon.com ‘Best Book of the Month’, a New York Post ‘Must-Read Book of the Week’, and NPR’s ‘Only a Game’ featured book of the week.
“An absorbing tale … full of fast-paced narratives and well-crafted characters” – The Washington Post
“Off-beat and engrossing … Griffin’s book is a fitting treatment of the entire overlooked episode” – The Boston Globe
“Above all, it is a scrupulous meditation on how eccentricities of time and place can shape big political and social events … meticulously researched and ambitiously conceived … a fascinating, eclectic cast-list of characters. Griffin’s achievement is that he has captured the big picture without losing the fine detail … This book deserves a wide audience.”
– The Times (UK)
“A racy account” – The Wall Street Journal
“Among the many quirks that make Mr. Griffin’s account so interesting is the culture clash that ensued … But in addition to presenting a broad diplomatic tableau and fascinating personal histories, Mr. Griffin is careful to weigh the consequences of what his book describes.”
–The New York Times
“A stranger-than-fiction tale….Through meticulous research and an impressively-crafted narrative, Griffin gives depth to the life of the “the forgotten architect” of so-called ping-pong diplomacy.”
– The Independent (UK)
“Impossible to resist…full of colorful characters” – Grantland
“Fascinating … (with) startling descriptions” – NPR’s All Things Considered
“Deft … Nicholas Griffin interweaves personal histories with the strategic story of ping-pong diplomacy, one of history’s more bizarre, world-changing episodes.” – The Guardian (UK)
“Ping-Pong Diplomacy belongs in the category of ‘you can’t make this stuff up.’ It reads more like a le Carré novel than diplomatic history. But the tale it recounts actually happened, and casts a new and provocative light on the U.S. Opening to China, one of the great foreign policy breakthroughs of the 20th century.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of A New World Order and The Idea That Is America
“This is the amazing drama of how Ping-Pong changed the world. With great research and narrative skills, Griffin brings us behind the scenes of the historic trip by the American team to China in 1971 to tell what really happened and why. Plus he puts it into the context of Ping-Pong’s fascinating history of being more than just a game.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“Ping-Pong Diplomacy is a deeply absorbing, suspenseful, and hilarious behind-the-scenes peek into a riveting slice of sports and political history. Nicholas Griffin has delivered an overhead smash. I love this book!”
—Davy Rothbart, author of My Heart is an Idiot and creator of Found Magazine
“A gripping read of the unlikely intertwining of table tennis as a sport with British and Soviet spycraft, and the high politics that broke China and the United States out of their Cold War confrontation. Anyone interested in the history of Sino-American normalization will find this literate and well documented history of ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ filled with poignant examples of how the politics of Mao’s Cultural Revolution used and destroyed the lives of Chinese officials enamored with the play of the little white ball.”
—Richard H. Solomon, formerly a member of Henry Kissinger’s NSC staff, Assistant Secretary of State for Asia, and President of the US Institute of Peace
“At last, here is the fascinating story of the sport that shaped the geopolitics today. Part character-driven history, part diplomatic caper, and part investigative pilgrimage to contemporary China, Ping-Pong Diplomacy makes us look again at an event that Griffin reveals is the climax of a decades-long movement. This is narrative history at its best.”
—Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing
“Alfred Hitchcock would grab this book for a spy thriller. He himself makes an entry into the melodrama superbly plotted by Nick Griffin. The MacGuffin in this case are table tennis balls by the hundred, which mislead British intelligence in its surveillance of an apparently rather daffy British aristocrat. I happen to have known the aristo, Ivor Montagu, when I played in table tennis tournaments he organized in Europe. He fooled me, too. But then until Ping-Pong Diplomacy came along, who’d guessed what he was up to as he moved among the marquee names—Trotsky and Charlie Chaplin, President Roosevelt and Sam Goldwyn, Mao and the Queen of England?”
—Sir Harold Evans author of My Paper Chase
“Ping-Pong as a vehicle for international espionage? It’s an idea so outlandish that, if it weren’t true, some novelist would have to invent it. A remarkable story, well documented and excitingly told.”
–Booklist, starred review
“Griffin has found an intriguing story with which to illuminate several important political events of the later 20th century and told it well.”
“Griffin bites off a huge story … a quirky, thoroughly enjoyable trek.” –Kirkus Reviews